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Two Creative Crop Tales: Rice From Heaven & Hey, Hey, Hay!

RICE FROM HEAVEN:
THE SECRET MISSION
TO FEED NORTH KOREANS

Written by Tina Cho
Illustrated by Keum Jin Song
(Little Bee; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

&

HEY, HEY, HAY!:
A TALE OF BALES
AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM

Written by Christy Mihaly

Illustrated by Joe Cepada
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Grasses and grains make great stories in two new August picture books from Epic18 authors.

Cover art from Rice From Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North KoreansDrawing from her own personal experience, author Tina Cho writes a compelling fictional story about RICE FROM HEAVEN: THE SECRET MISSION TO FEED NORTH KOREANS.

Yoori, a young South Korean girl, has listened to her father, Appa, talk about his difficult childhood in North Korea. His compelling stories of hardship and hunger lead Yoori and Appa to volunteer for a secret nighttime mission; sending packages of rice over the border via special balloons.

When father and daughter arrive near the border, local villagers protest and chant, “Don’t feed the enemy.” In dismay Yoori says “The hope in my heart withers like a dying rice stalk.” But she rallies her courage and persists in completing the task at hand. With other volunteers, Yoori and Appa help inflate balloons, attach containers of rice, and send them floating over the border under starry skies.

Song’s vibrant illustrations markedly differentiate the two countries with a stark color palette. A verdant and lush South Korea features plentiful orange and pink flowers, fruits and green landscapes. Alternately, North Korea is shown isolated within a clear bowl, brown, barren and withered. The dramatic contrast peaks on a poignant double spread showing two North and South Korean girls face one another. While large grey mountains loom in the distance, the two children remain separated by nothing more than a small stream of clear running water.

Cho provides additional information on the political and cultural history of the Korean peninsula. This informative story is hopeful, compassionate and timely.

 

cover art from Hey, Hey, Hay!: A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make ThemIn HEY, HEY, HAY!: A TALE OF BALES AND THE MACHINES THAT MAKE THEM author Christy Mihaly tells a summery story about the process of harvesting hay. The bales will be stored in the barn, ready to break out a bit of summer for a hungry horse on a cold winter day.

Standing in waist-high, thick green grass that spills across the long, rolling horizon, a young girl and her mother observe that the fields are ready for the haying to begin. “Mower blades slice through the grass. / A new row falls with every pass. / Stalks and stems are scattered ’round. / The scents of new-mown plants abound.” The rhythmic thunk-thunk, chunk-chunk phrases echo the mechanical beats of the machinery employed – a mower, tedder, rake and baler. Mihaly explains the terminology in a helpful glossary of “haymaking words” that add richness to the rhyming farming narrative.

As the mown hay dries, mother and daughter refresh themselves with switchel, a traditional cold haying drink of ginger, vinegar and maple syrup. For those inspired to try it, the recipe is included! Raking and baling finally lead to the satisfying conclusion of a crop safely stacked in the barn, and time to ride and play with the patiently waiting pony.

Cepada’s illustrations capture the vast fields, broad skies, and varied haying equipment with detail, vibrancy and color. Green grasses fade to olive-yellows as tinted clouds sweep across the pages. The tractors and barn are a cheerful, traditional red, and the immense rolled hay bales are textured with prickly perfection. Each generously proportioned oil-and acrylic image is paired with succinct and snappy text that explicates and enhances the unique and creative story.

Good reasons to harvest both of these titles about bounty on your bookshelves!
 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Swing Sisters by Karen Deans

CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH WITH
SWING SISTERS:
THE STORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL SWEETHEARTS OF RHYTHM
Written by Karen Deans
Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
(Holiday House; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

 

Swing-Sisters-cvr.jpg

In 2014 and 2015 readers have been treated to a number of fantastic narrative nonfiction picture books. Today’s review features yet another add-it-to-your-collection book, the story of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm as recounted in the impressive Swing Sisters.

Back in the very early 20th century, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones established an orphanage called Piney Woods Country Life. It was here that he would ensure African American children could thrive and he did so not only by letting kids be kids, but also by having them do work at the school “to earn their keep.” Using this same philosophy, he organized a school band “just for girls,” to “help raise money for the school.” Anyone involved in the band had to consider their role as an additional job on top of school work and other responsibilities at Piney Woods.

The girls played a kind of music called swing. It was jazz music that brought people to their feet, “that music was filled with energy!” It also touched people from all walks of life because it made them feel alive and excited. The girls’ group, named The Sweethearts by Dr. Jones, eventually left Piney Woods to launch a career starting in Washington, D.C. They traveled by bus and performed all over America. Their hard work and dedication helped them hit the “big-time,” at one point playing to a crowd of thirty-five thousand at the Howard Theater in Washington!

By this point the band was known as The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and though America’s Sweethearts were consummate entertainers, they still encountered gender and race discrimination. The Jim Crow laws meant they couldn’t work together with white people, so for the most part they played “for black audiences.” Since their band was multi-racial, they were essentially breaking the law in certain states. There was even one occasion when white band members had to flee or risk arrest. I was happy to learn that during WWII, the USO “arranged a six-month tour for the band to travel to France, Belgium, and Germany.” But at the same time I’m disappointed that, despite having played for the troops abroad, the group’s USO tour is something we rarely hear about.

L.A. local Cepeda’s acrylic-and-oil artwork, with its retro woodcut look and expressiveness, is a bonus. He’s captured the era through a rainbow of colors that dazzle and delight. And, how lucky for us that Deans has chosen to shed light on this group of talented and committed female musicians who were throwing rocks at the glass ceiling way before other women thought it was even possible. Their days on the jazz circuit made inroads for countless women performers who would follow in their swinging footsteps. There’s not a dull sentence in this story thanks in part to the subject matter, but also owing a great deal to Deans’ talent. She’s brought the experience of being a trailblazing band to life in a richly crafted picture book that begs to be shared with early school goers.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to read an enlightening interview with author Karen Deans.

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